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Relative Rates of Surface and Volume Synthesis Set Bacterial Cell Size

Harris, Leigh K., Theriot, Julie A.
Cell 2016 v.165 pp. 1479-1492
bacteria, biosynthesis, cell walls, dose response, homeostasis, models, surface area
Many studies have focused on the mechanisms underlying length and width determination in rod-shaped bacteria. Here, we focus instead on cell surface area to volume ratio (SA/V) and demonstrate that SA/V homeostasis underlies size determination. We propose a model whereby the instantaneous rates of surface and volume synthesis both scale with volume. This model predicts that these relative rates dictate SA/V and that cells approach a new steady-state SA/V exponentially, with a decay constant equal to the volume growth rate. To test this, we exposed diverse bacterial species to sublethal concentrations of a cell wall biosynthesis inhibitor and observed dose-dependent decreases in SA/V. Furthermore, this decrease was exponential and had the expected decay constant. The model also quantitatively describes SA/V alterations induced by other chemical, nutritional, and genetic perturbations. We additionally present evidence for a surface material accumulation threshold underlying division, sensitizing cell length to changes in SA/V requirements.